Episode 4: How to Lead Teams That Consistently Excel
Andy Champion: Hello everyone. My name is Andy Champion. I’m the vice president and general manager of Highspot here in EMEA. Delighted to welcome you to this latest installment of the Win Win podcast. Joining me today, I’m delighted to speak to Scott Edinger. He’s somebody that I’ve spoken to before. He is a deep expert in his field, and he advises many companies globally on how to drive consistent growth. He has over 40 articles published in the Harvard Business Review and has contributed to over 50 articles in Forbes. Scott, welcome to the podcast.
Scott Edinger: Thanks for having me, Andy. I’m excited to be here and talk with you again.
ANDY: Always good to get back together. So Scott, there’s a few topics that I want to touch on today. And the first one I want to start with is this concept of the great resignation. It’s something that I think that, you know, is a topic of conversation with business leaders that I talk to, and it’s been causing quite a stir. Now, I think it’s fair to say there’s been a talent shortage for quite some time now. It’s nothing new. We as sales and revenue leaders have always sought to get the best possible talent. But I think what has changed is the pandemic has caused, I think, a pause in that natural talent lifecycle. It’s caused people to pause and to delay decisions, but as we come out of the pandemic, I think what I’m starting to see is that people are taking this moment to reevaluate their positions, to reevaluate the companies that they work for. But more importantly, I think they’re really taking a long, hard look at the people that they work with and specifically their managers. So I wanted to start there and just get your take on, are people starting to leave companies, or is it really that old adage of “People don’t leave companies—they leave managers”?
SCOTT: Yeah, I very much think it’s the latter. I believe it was the people at Gallup, famous for their organizational surveys, who coined that phrase many years ago. I think it might be like 20 years ago. People don’t leave organizations, they leave their managers. And as much as we have this great resignation upon us, as it were, you know 10 years ago, we were calling this the war for talent. And I was reading some statistics about this great resignation and we certainly have much lower unemployment than we have had, but even the total number of people leaving the workforce, while statistically significant, isn’t dramatic, at least in the U.S. statistics I was looking at. So, it’s not like people who need to work are all of a sudden dropping out of the workforce. I mean, there are people who perhaps don’t need to work who are reevaluating. You know, like you said, the pandemic gives us this great pause to say what’s important in my life. And there is, without a doubt, people who are saying, “Look, I’m not going to work” or “I’m not going to work like I was.” And definitely there’s an Exodus from the workforce from that.
But people who are either sales professionals or engineers or in technology, whatever their roles are, it’s not like they’ve decided all of a sudden, well, I’m just resigning. They’re going someplace else for something better. And they’re looking for something more from the organizations and I think most importantly from their leaders. So I think it’s very much that latter idea, “What more am I getting from my leader?”
ANDY: And I know that that’s a sort of a starting off point for us on a few topics here. And you know, maybe we explore that briefly. When you look to leaders and great leaders, what are some of the core components? What are some of the core behaviors that you see come up time and time again that differentiate the good from the great?
SCOTT: Well, it’s been a dozen years since I wrote my first book. I just realized, I was going to say 10, and now I realize it’s actually closer to a dozen. And that book was called The Inspiring Leader. And I wrote that book along with Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger. And one of the analyses that we had done was to identify which leadership characteristics were most powerful—in particular, which leadership characteristics were most powerful in driving engagement and commitment. One would think that this is the key to retention, right?
So amidst all of these leadership competencies, one really stood out as strongly important. The book title gives it away: the inspiring leader. It’s the ability to inspire and motivate high performance. Now on the surface that may not seem revelatory, right? It’s like, okay, so someone who’s inspiring—this drives commitment, engagement. I can totally see, you know, we all want to be inspired. We all want to have that kind of leader in the workplace. But when you start to break that apart and say, so what is it that makes a leader inspiring? Then you start to get to some really valuable ideas, especially as it relates to this great resignation, war on talent, whatever the next iteration of it’s going to be.
Because again, people don’t leave companies, they tend to leave their managers. So some of the things we found were most valuable was this idea of developing talent. Coaching and developing talent. People were loath to find another opportunity when they worked for someone who invested strongly in their development, who coached them, who helped them to advance in their career.
When you find that, even if there’s better companies, you may find yourself in a really wonderful opportunity with that kind of growth—particularly, I’ll say this, if you’re between the ages of—call it 25 and 45. Which, by the way, is where we see most of the resignation happening, some in the 45 to 55 range. But the more concerning part of the great resignation is in the 25 to 45 year-old group.
ANDY: And maybe we can unpack that a little bit. You know, I’m fascinated around this concept of the culture of coaching. It really resonates as I reflect on my career and it certainly resonates with many of the individual contributors and salespeople that I talk with. And I think it also aligns with how at Highspot we think a lot about consistent execution at scale: How do we help everybody succeed? How do we help everybody make their best contribution? So I wonder if you can sort of unpack that a little bit for us and talk exactly about what does good coaching look like, and why does it matter so much?
SCOTT: Well, when you consider good coaching, you know, it’s usually not in the form of just telling people what to do. Really good coaching is about investing in someone’s development, helping them to get the right kind of training, the right kind of, call it formal education. But then when they’re back on the job, helping them to actually get better at those skills, whether they be selling skills, coding skills, management skills, leadership, even other coaching skills.
So if you consider this idea of investing in the initial growth for people, send them to proper training, But then when they’re back from that, how do you engage with them regularly to help them to improve? Are you able to observe them in action? Are you able to give them proper guidance? Are you able to invest your time in helping them to get better at their job?
I’ll give you an interesting hypothetical here. So if you are interviewing for a job and the manager that you are talking with shares with you all of the really wonderful elements and all the great parts of the company and their benefits. And, you know, maybe we have a sushi chef here once a month, whatever, the foosball table, whatever these things are. They spend their time on this and how great the company is. That’s interview number one. The second interview includes all of that. But that manager says, “A vital part of my success is investing in your development. So I’m going to spend a lot of time and coaching on you. I’m going to spend a lot of time helping you to get better at your job. That way you can drive greater success.”
Which of those sounds more enticing? Both companies may be good, but I think it’s pretty obvious to me, which one I’d want to go with.
ANDY: Yeah, for sure. And one of the things that I wish I’d learned earlier in my career was just how big a determinant of my success my leader and their line manager was. I only came to realize that fairly late on, and I think it was a big mess on my part.
SCOTT: Well, I got lucky on that one. I’ll share a quick story here. When I was 25 years old, I had the second interview. I had a manager who said to me, “You know, I’m going to really invest in your development, in your growth.”
Now, the funny sidebar there is that months after I was on the job—and this person rode me pretty hard on a number of things. His name is John Robens, great manager. Great, great coach. But when we talked about that, he said, “By the way, none of that is altruistic.” He’s like, “I’m not doing that just for the sake of doing it.” He was like, “I want you to grow. I want you to develop. I want you to be successful. But I know if you do that, you’re going to do a better job for me. We’re going to have more success. We’re going to hit our numbers.” There was a lot of things involved with that. So I think if you are a job seeker thinking about this, or if you’re in a job someplace thinking about your manager, or if you are managing others and looking to hire, this is a really wonderful lens to put over the hiring process.
And even more importantly, how you do your job, how you go to work every day, really focusing on developing others and helping them to grow. And that really is the key to coaching.
ANDY: I mean, there’s no downside for this, as you say, whether you are the manager looking to attract talent or whether you are the job seeker looking for your next role. But you know, there’s another aspect to this, right?
And that’s this: What about the people that are staying? What about the people that are remaining in their jobs? This should be applying to them as well. And this could be a conversation that they can have with their manager.
SCOTT: If you’re evaluating, leaving someplace, if you are a part of the great resignation, you want something better, it costs you nothing to try to ask for that at your current location.
And one of those things can be, “What kind of development is available for me? What kind of coaching? How am I going to get better? Improve my ability to bring value to a job?” You know, you have to believe that ultimately your ability to bring more value equals greater compensation, greater degrees of freedom, all the things that are important to people in this pandemic resignation—whatever moniker we’re going to give it next.
ANDY: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. One other aspect of this conversation that I’d be really interested in your take on is the dynamic between the manager and the individual, whether you’re seeking a job or whether you’re in a current job. I agree with you asking for that development is really important, but where does the balance lie between me as the individual owning my career development and owning my growth and the manager inputting into that or providing the guidance. Where does the responsibility sit? Is it with me to drive my own career? Is it with my manager? How does that work?
SCOTT: Well, I think self-determination notwithstanding, we all have a responsibility for our career and where we’re headed in our career. You know, where you don’t necessarily have the responsibility, if you are an employee, is perhaps to kick in the financial resources—though, bookmark that maybe if you want to. If there’s something special you want to do for your growth and development and maybe a company offset there, or maybe you expect the company to fund it.
But I think each of us has to be able to say, “Here’s where I need to grow. Here’s where I want to improve my abilities, my skill sets. These are the competencies or areas of focus I want to get better at or to acquire.” I think we each have to do that, but it can’t be done in a vacuum because you don’t work alone.
So being able to go to your manager, to your leader, the vice president, the CEO, whoever that may be and say, “Where do you need more from me?” And how do we come together on a vision for what my improvement looks like, getting to that proverbial next level in terms of skill development, in terms of knowledge, in terms of capacity.
And what does that look like? And being able to drive that together. In a good company, managers are doing that in collaboration with individuals who are taking responsibility for their own. That’s ideal. You can imagine there’s plenty of non-ideal scenarios where people are driving all of their own development or the company’s trying to get blood from a turnip and trying to get, you know, lots of growth out of people who either don’t have the potential or don’t want to. We see that plenty too. ANDY: So, Scott, one of the things I remember reading some time ago was a quote by Richard Branson and it went something along the lines of, “Hey, you know, train people well enough so that they can leave. But treat them well enough so that they don’t want to.” I’m really interested in exploring that through the lens of the people that are staying and how we should think about balancing all of this investment in them so that they might actually be able to go and get a better job.
SCOTT: Yeah. That Richard Branson character has a good idea now and then, doesn’t he? This is, I think, such an important point, because of all the talk about everybody leaving, the great resignation and the drama of it, it’s really easy to forget about everybody who’s staying. They’re the backbone of your business.
So when I wrote that book, The Inspiring Leader, this notion that inspiring and motivating was one of the top factors in people not leaving their company. And for those who are most inspiring and most motivating in terms of getting the most out of other people, the ability to develop talent was a key factor.
The Richard Branson story reminded me of another story of a vice president of customer service, talking with a CFO about significant investment in training and development. And the CFO responds to the VP of customer service and says, “Well, what if we spend all this money on them and they leave?” And the VP of customer service sort of says, “Oh, that’s a good point.” And responds with, “What if we don’t invest much in their development…and they stay?” Really sort of puts a point on the idea.
You’ve got a lot of people that are staying. In fact in just about every business you have many more that are staying than are leaving. The people who are staying are the real issue for you. And how are you going to invest in their development, make them better at executing your strategy, make them better at interacting with and providing value for customers?
This is ultimately the heartbeat of your strategy: the experience that you provide, not just what you provide, but how you provide that. So making sure that you’re investing in people and their growth is one of the things that I have seen that make people really reluctant to leave a situation, even when there are better jobs available.
When they’ve got really great management, they’re growing, they’re developing, they’re stretching themselves, at least as long as the job opportunities are comparable here. The people are reluctant to leave when they’re in that situation. It also has the added benefit of helping you to compete better in the marketplace.
So you have this really wonderful synergy of factors here of both making people more committed, more engaged in their work and getting better results. Like the manager, John Roben, who I mentioned to, you said to me, you know, “It’s not just altruistic.” Here is a definite gain for the business here that they’re after. And that’s laudable. In commercial enterprise you’re allowed to do that.
ANDY: And I really love that because I think there’s some gold dust in there that I want to be very specific about. You know, when typically when we look across a population in a given company, perhaps in a specific role, you see a bell curve of performance, right? You have far more mid-performers than you do low performers and high performers.
And I think, you know, the temptation can often be as a manager just to focus on, “Hey, if I can get my high performers to perform another 10% better, that’s where my big output is,” but I think what I’ve seen, and one of the things that we focus on, is actually taking some of that time and shifting your mid-performers up by 5% can actually pay off way, way, way more, because you’ve got so much more of them. The concept that I often talk about is the frozen middle. It’s just interesting to me. Does that align with your experience?
SCOTT: Yeah, I’d say there’s a couple of frozen parts. You know, typically when people talk about—this is such an important point—when people talk about coaching and performance management improvement, they almost always gravitate to improving poor performance. And that is not what you and I have been talking about here at all. We’re not talking about trying to remediate poor performers and get them to be okay. We’re trying to take, you know, the entire bell curve, like you said that frozen middle, and shift it to the right to improve everybody’s performance. And I’ll say here that the people most likely to benefit from your coaching, who are most likely to contribute that much more to your business results—it’s certainly true in sales and in technical fields where I’ve seen it—are the high performers.
And managers tend to say, “I’m just going to get out of their way and let them do their job.” But there’s a ton of value in saying, “No, I’m going to double down here. I’m going to invest a lot of time, effort, energy, maybe money, in helping them to get that much better, because they’re in complex jobs where the value that they can contribute is even greater.”
So in everything we’ve been talking about coaching, in my mind, I’ve not been thinking about poor performers at all. I’ve been thinking about average and really strong performers and getting them better because they’re the ones that contribute value. Usually the poor performers we spend a lot of time coaching and investing in performance management with them. If I had a nickel for every time someone got on a performance improvement plan that got off of it and became a top performer, I’d have about 75 cents. It doesn’t happen very often. A lot of effort goes there that isn’t as valuable.
ANDY: So as we wrap up, I want, I just want to come back to where we started, and that’s the great resignation. And we’ve discussed the importance of coaching in every situation, how there is no downside for the individual, the manager, or the company. Everybody benefits here. Just as we wrap up, I just want to touch on briefly, what does good coaching look like? And how does that manifest itself in, for example, the sales job?
SCOTT: Yeah. Well, I think that, you know, I’ve drawn from a few different bodies of work for this, but one in particular, Dr. Anders Ericsson, professor of psychology at Florida State University wrote a book called Peak. As in peak performance, P-E-A-K. And most of you listening would not know Dr. Ericsson, but you’ve probably heard of the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell. And that was an extrapolation of the research that Dr. Ericsson had done.
I’m going to give you the short version here on what really makes the difference. The short version is, 10,000 hours isn’t the key. It might be less than 10,000 hours. It might be more than 10,000 hours. There’s certainly a significant amount of practice involved in developing expert performance, but there’s no magic in 10,000 hours. According to Dr. Ericsson, who I had a chance to sit down with a few years ago, the real magic is something we’d call deliberate practice.
And that has a few conditions that we as leaders and that we as leaders and coaches can apply to our work every day. The first of which is that you’ve got to have a model for success. What does good look like? I’ll share them and then I’ll do a quick brief on each of these. You’ve got to have a model of what good looks like. And then second, you have to have a chance to practice against that model. You have to try to do it like the model. Third, while being observed by an expert who really understands number one, what great looks like, and then, four: again.
So if you think about any instrument or sport—you know, my daughter’s a violinist. She doesn’t listen to a piece of music once to get what good looks like or great looks like. She listens to it a lot. And she watches how the teacher moves their fingers along the frets and uses the bow and everything. And she watches that very carefully and then she mimics it while being observed. And then she gets feedback: what worked, what didn’t work. So she gets that observed feedback on what worked and what didn’t work. Then she goes back and does it all again. And she doesn’t do that once. She does it dozens and dozens of times, I’m going to say hundreds of times, given how much I’ve listened to some practice (delightful in our house).
But still, you know, nonetheless, you’ve got to do it a lot, whether it is learning to play a sport or an instrument, or be an effective seller. And you asked me specifically about that. So I’ll go take a quick dive on that. So number one, in sales, you’ve got to have a good model of what success looks like. What do you want your people to do differently? It’s not just generate revenue. That’s the outcome. What are the specific behaviors? From asking questions to positioning your solutions, helping clients to see issues that they hadn’t considered, helping them to understand problems in a different way so that they can develop some kind of insight. These are the things we tend to want salespeople to do.
That’s the backbone of every consultative or solution sales course out there. You got to give them that model. I think sending them to a few days of training and expecting them to absorb it and integrate at one time is probably as unrealistic as listening to a piece of music one time and then expecting someone to play it perfectly.
So then they’ve got to have the chance to go practice that while being observed by a manager or another expert. And when I say practice that, I’m going to suggest that you don’t want people to practice on your best customers, your top prospects. You want safe environments where they can get it right and make a few mistakes. That’s not great when you’re negotiating million-dollar deals. So you want to have that chance to practice these skills while being observed by someone who afterward can say, “Here’s what good looks like. Here’s what you did. Here’s what I saw. I liked that. Keep doing that. Change this. You remember when that happened with the customer, how you said that and they responded kind of negatively? I think you didn’t ask the right thing there.”
Whatever these things start to look like. And then to say, okay, when that happens once, then you’ve got one iteration. And if Malcolm Gladwell said the average was around 10,000 hours, how many sales calls do you need to develop not expert, but at least strong performance? So that gives you a bit of a model. It’s like, have the model of what great looks like, have a chance to practice against that. Be observed with it, get feedback on what worked, what didn’t, and start all over again. You can apply that to any sport, skill, competencies…
ANDY: You know, the beauty here that I think as leaders, as managers, our key currency is behavioral change. Long-term behavioral change to help our people achieve their personal objectives, their career goals. And that’s, I think, as we’ve talked about all throughout this, very, very closely aligned to the company goals and the aspirations that we have. Scott, thank you so much for your time today.
SCOTT: My pleasure.
ANDY: I think what I take away from this is that one of our best defenses as leaders in and around this great resignation is to continue to invest in our people to create that culture of coaching, using tools like deliberate practice to be a core part of that. This is about going deep on the individual and the skills and behaviors that they need. But also as individuals, when we are looking at our careers, when we’re assessing, do we make a move? Do we stay? Let’s look at the environment in which we’re in, put that alongside the companies that we look at, and make some decisions around where are we going to get that investment and that development?
Thank you again for your time. I really enjoyed the conversation. I look forward to the next installment.
SCOTT: Yeah, me too. Great to talk with you again, Andy.